Reliever Knebel inks 1-year deal with Phils

December 2nd, 2021

PHILADELPHIA -- The Phillies made no promises, but they absolutely believe that could be their closer next season.

In fact, they would be “thrilled” if he came to Clearwater, Fla., next spring as the lead candidate to close.

The team on Wednesday announced it signed Knebel to a one-year, $10 million contract.

“We think he can close games,” Phillies president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski said. “I think that’s why he signed here. We did not promise him that. We just told him that he’d be a back-end person for us. But we think he has the stuff and he’s healthy, and when he has been that, he has the stuff to do that and he has the makeup to do that. So that’s how we would envision him being for us.

"We told him we think he can do it. We signed him with that thought process [of being the closer], but we did not promise him that.”

Knebel, 30, has closer’s stuff when he is healthy. He posted a 2.45 ERA and 0.97 WHIP in 27 appearances last season with the Dodgers. He struck out 30 of the 101 batters he faced.

Knebel had a 1.78 ERA with the Brewers in 2017, when he made the National League All-Star team and led the league with 76 appearances. The right-hander had Tommy John surgery in 2018 and missed the entire 2019 season. He struggled upon his return in 2020. Knebel joined Los Angeles last season, but he missed most of the year with a strained right lat. He returned in August and had a 1.83 ERA in 19 appearances down the stretch. He had a 3.18 ERA in seven postseason appearances, including two starts.

Knebel’s fastball velocity jumped from 94.3 mph in 2020 to 96.3 mph last season, according to Statcast.

Dombrowski said the Phillies are well aware of Knebel’s health history, but they are comfortable that he is healthy.

Knebel signed his deal before the Collective Bargaining Agreement was set to expire on Wednesday. Dombrowski said he does not envision the Phillies pursuing another reliever with a closer’s profile whenever a new CBA is finalized.

“I’m not sure who else may not be signed and we may eventually be in a position to try to acquire,” Dombrowski said. “It’s still early in the wintertime, but we’re not necessarily going after a closer at this time.”

Dombrowski said he can’t say how many more relievers he thinks the Phillies need to acquire before Opening Day, either. It could be one. It could be two. It could be none.

“We've got some other arms that we like,” he said. “We picked up some other additions. But we're just going to continue to explore and just see what makes sense for us as we go through the wintertime. We've got a guy that we think will close games for us, and that's a big start. And then we can kind of build the rest of the bullpen.

“Just seeing who's available, we've made some small acquisitions that we think can help us out there, and we've got some guys coming back that we like. … But we'll continue to explore out there, as we'll continue to explore at other positions, too.”

Oh, yeah. The Phillies still have holes in left field and center field, as well as the bench. They have pursued free-agent outfielder Kyle Schwarber, who presumably would play left field. There are reports they have talked to the Rays about center fielder Kevin Kiermaier.

“We've talked about a lot of different things,” Dombrowski said. “There's really not a lot of guys. There's only been one major center fielder, I think, that's come off the board, which was [Starling] Marte. So that was not an area where there were a lot of individuals that specifically were center fielders.

“We have some thought processes, but we still have some things that we're talking about, even as of today.”

Other teams have been incredibly active to this point -- most notably, the Mets. Dombrowski is not panicking.

“There's still a long time in the winter,” he said. “Usually before the Winter Meetings, there's nothing that takes place anymore, so it just shows you how much has taken place. But then you're also in a spot where there's still plenty of time to get things done once we get back.”